by Dr. Mark Jones
Christians affirm that God is good, but just how good is God? We can speak of him being “infinitely good” but that still doesn’t help the person in the pew much. People need specifics.
Is it possible that God could show more goodness to his people than to his beloved Son?
Think of the truth that the Father poured out wrath upon his Son – his Son in whom he has always been well-pleased (Matt. 3:17; 17:5), even from eternity. How do we understand this mystery?
In one sense we can say that God was never more happy with his Son than when he was most angry with him. What does that mean? As John Owen says,
“[The Father] was always well pleased with the holiness of [Christ’s] person, the excellency and perfections of his righteousness, and the sweetness of his obedience, but he was displeased with the sins that were charged on him: and therefore it pleased him to bruise him and put him to grief with whom he was always well pleased.”
This understanding of our redemption leads us to say something rather provocative: that the goodness shown to us, God’s people, is “a greater goodness to us, than was for a time manifested to Christ himself” (Charnock).
God’s wrath upon his Son was so intense that it could have sunk millions of worlds of sinful men and angels (Owen). Christ was forsaken by the Father for a time in order that the Father would never forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
We received a promise that even Christ himself did not receive: Heb. 13:5 – the promise that God will never leave us nor forsake us. Of all the promises made to Christ from the Father, Christ could not have been told that the Father would leave him or forsake him.
The holy one of God was declared at Calvary to be unholy so that unholy creatures like us might be declared to be as holy as the holy one of God. God valued the redemption of the elect so much that He sentenced His own Son to humiliation on earth so that all who belong to Christ may be exalted in heaven.
So in speaking about the goodness of God, we must speak vividly, sometimes provocatively, about the way in which his goodness is shown to us:
“God was desirous to hear him groaning, and see him bleeding, that we might not groan under his frowns, and bleed under his wrath; he spared not him, that he might spare us; refused not to strike him, that he might be well pleased with us; drenched his sword in the blood of his Son, that it might not for ever be wet with ours, but that his goodness might for ever triumph in our salvation; he was willing to have his Son made man, and die, rather than man should perish, who had delighted to ruin himself; he seemed to degrade him for a time from what he was” (Charnock).
To affirm that for a time God showed more goodness to us than to his Son is to say that Christ’s shrieks, cries, and spiritual agonies were not pretended but real.
We are living in an age, I believe, where preaching has fallen on hard times. There are many reasons for this, but one reason I believe is obvious: pastors have a limited range of vocabulary and do not paint pictures for God’s people to be moved by God’s goodness, love, patience, wrath, etc.
God is gracious: fine! But how is God gracious? That’s the job of the preacher: to make God’s people understand, love, and believe God’s grace to them.
Rapid hand movements are taking the place of vivid, memorable words. Our words, not dramatic hand-waving, should keep the attention of God’s people. Sacred rhetoric has been replaced by the karate kid.
The highest gift possible for the Father to bestow upon his people was the gift of his Son – his Son whom he showed less goodness to for a while than vile, God-hating sinners like you and me. Thus when we speak of God’s goodness, we can say that his goodness is such that he showed more love to us than for a time he showed to the one in whom he had no reason to show wrath except that it was better for us that he did.
Dr. Mark Jones is pastor of a PCA church in Vancouver and author of LOVING CHRIST; Banner of Truth; 2015.